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© 2016 North Jersey Media Group

5:34 a.m. EDT September 4, 2016

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MORRISTOWN — Five months after the Morris Family Justice Center opened on the fourth floor of the Morris County administration building, the facility has assisted more than 200 adult victims of domestic violence and provided services to 20 children impacted by the crises.

The initiative of the Jersey Battered Women’s Service, a 40-year-old Morris County-based advocacy and nonprofit support agency for survivors of domestic violence, the justice center is the focus now of a $1 million campaign to sustain it over the next five years. Nearly $800,000 toward that goal has been raised in the past five months and the community’s support is being requested to raise the additional $200,000.

“This campaign is about responding to our community, giving those who are fleeing from domestic violence a promise of security, and offering survivors one place where they can tell their stories to one person at one time, and know that they will be heard,” said campaign co-chairperson Patti Lee, past board president of JBWS and senior vice president of human resources and chief officer of diversity for Wyndham.

Lee called the center “cutting edge,” a secure place where victims are seen by client specialists, connected with counseling services and provided assistance with safety plans and restraining orders — in essence, the tools they need to safely cope with domestic violence. Instead of having people tromp around from place to place, the center is a one-stop facility in which the skills of JBWS and 10 other partners have melded to address client needs.

The center occupies 2,500 square feet of space on the fourth floor of the county administration and records building, which is allocated to JBWS free of charge by the county freeholders. With offices, a kitchen, cozy living room and playroom with games, toys and tea set for children, the center provides a multitude of services to domestic violence victims and their families, free of charge.

A center’s location is secure: a police officer is assigned there full-time and the administration and records building is protected, overall, by Morris County sheriff’s officers.

Under the leadership of Lee and campaign co-chairman Jim Gerace, chief communications officer for Verizon and a former JBWS board president, the campaign has raised nearly $800,000 from individuals and private foundations over the past five months. The $1 million investment is required to sustain the center and provide operational support, including counseling and client services that reflect the needs of the community over the next five years, according to a JBWS statement.

A major benefactor is Provident Bank, which donated $100,000 in start-up funds for the justice center before the campaign started. A campaign gift or pledge can be made through www.jbws.org or discussed with JBWS Executive Director Patricia Sly at 973-267-7520.

For people who need the services of JBWS, the number is 973-829-4050 and after hours, 1-877-R-U-ABUSED.

Along with Provident Bank, Sly said, campaign co-chairs Patti Lee and Jim Gerace, the entire JBWS board of directors and other longtime JBWS contributors have been the strongest supporters of the major gifts campaign.

Lee noted that one in every four women has been involved in a domestic violence incident, making it a prevalent problem that can be reduced through community support.

“It’s going to take a community to stomp it out,” Lee said.

JBWS is the lead of 11 partners in the center that include the county of Morris, Legal Services of Northwest Jersey, Morris CARES, Morris County Bar Foundation, Morris County Organization for Hispanic Affairs, Morristown Police Department, Manavi, an advocacy program for South Asian survivors, and county Prosecutor’s and Sheriff’s offices and Superior Court.

“It’s been great to see all the services come together and all the families being served,” said center Coordinator Marianne McCrone. “It’s been a big success.”

The center is considered a “best practice,” and center Director of Client Services Cathy Stephens and attorney Marcy McMann, chairwoman of the county bar association’s domestic violence working group, visited similar centers in Essex County, Brooklyn, San Diego, Boston, and Fort Worth, Texas.

During a center opening ceremony in April, Sly led tours through the space, pointing out the deliberate efforts to make it a peaceful environment where clients are welcome to get a snack, watch television, use the computer if their home computer is not safe, or relax in the playroom with their children.

Sly, in a statement, stressed how far services have evolved in the past decades to assist domestic violence victims and their children.

“Prior to having a family justice center, a victim of abuse might have to travel on the bus with her children in tow to the police station to pick up the copy of the police report,” Sly said. “Then she could be advised to get a temporary restraining order against her husband. However, the Family Court domestic violence unit could be closed until the next day. She would need to return there by bus in the morning.”

“Later the next day,” Sly continued, “she may need to leave Family Court to meet with an attorney. If she needs to obtain emergency financial support — another stop — that would have to wait another day. Her children would tire, she would be overwhelmed and her work would not be done … more stops to make, more questions to be asked, more people with whom to explain her situation.”

Peggy Wright: 973-267-1142; pwright@GannettNJ.com.